There has been an explosion in the number of street stabbings and shootings in England since the beginning of lockdown, despite police claiming the measures have driven down serious violence.
Earlier this month, West Midlands police said there had been a 40 percent drop in knife crime in the area during the first week of lockdown, compared to the same week in 2019. London's Met Police said the measures had resulted in a 25 percent fall in knife crime in the capital since January.
However, the relative peace has not lasted long, according to analysis by VICE. A study of reported serious street violence found 35 gang-style street attacks nationwide since the 26th of March, including seven homicides and 11 shootings. Of the 35 attacks, 20 involved teenagers as either victims or suspects, with half of the incidents occurring in either Birmingham or London.
In Birmingham, a city with a well-deserved reputation for high gun crime, there has been a flurry of shootings and stabbings involving teenagers over the last fortnight. According to one youth crime expert, this has been sparked by boredom and lockdown-fuelled social media beefs.
On the 16th of April, a 19-year-old was shot in the arm near a branch of Dixy Chicken in Alum Rock, an inner-city suburb in England's second city.
Two days later, according to a police source, a gunman shot up a house near Birmingham's Lozells district, hours after a dispute involving an online House Party video chat that had been gate-crashed by a teenager from a rival postcode gang, making threats and brandishing a gun. That attack was not covered by media. On the 20th of April, in an apparent retaliation to the House Party incident, two hooded gunmen sprayed the DFC chicken shop in the city's Handsworth neighbourhood with bullets. A 17-year-old was later charged with possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life.
Last Sunday, on the 26th of April, a 16-year-old was airlifted to hospital in critical condition after he and a 19-year-old friend were stabbed in a park on the outskirts of Birmingham. Three teenagers, including a boy aged 14, were arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.
Two hours afterwards, on the other side of the city and in an unconnected attack, a man died after being knifed in the heart outside a shopping centre in Smethwick, a district of the city. Four men, two aged 19, have since been arrested on suspicion of a murder that was filmed and widely viewed on social media.
Just 26 hours later, on Tuesday of this week, a 17-year old was arrested after a young man was slashed with a machete outside a petrol station only 600 yards down the road from the previous afternoon's murder. In the early hours of Wednesday morning, a man was stabbed three times in the city's Kitts Green area.
Meanwhile, in London, on Monday evening a man was shot in a drive-by shooting in Kentish Town. On Sunday, a 24-year-old was stabbed to death in Newham by a gang wearing masks, days after his father had died from coronavirus. On Saturday, a man in his twenties died from head injuries after being attacked in Hackney.
Before two other stabbings in Bethnal Green and Wembley on the 8th of April, a 13-year-old was stabbed in the stomach while riding his bicycle in Basildon.
In just one week in the Litherland neighbourhood of Liverpool, Michael Rainsford, 20, was killed when his home was strafed by gunfire. Two 17-year-olds were arrested on suspicion of his murder. Six days later, round the corner, an 18-year old was stabbed to death and a 17-year-old was arrested on suspicion of murder after barricading himself in a nearby home.
These street attacks have not just been in the UK's big cities: a 15-year-old was stabbed in Newmarket, a 16-year-old was stabbed in Grantham and a teenager was airlifted to hospital after being stabbed in Gillingham. There were also stabbings in Manchester, Rugby, Sheffield, Leamington Spa and St Leonards, plus the murder by machete of a young man in Brighton, as well as drive-by shootings in Luton and Slough.
So what's caused this catalogue of street violence during a lockdown that many presumed would dampen rising knife crime?
"In affluent areas people will be in their homes, but in areas where poor education, lack of resources and deprivation exists, I notice that groups of teenagers are still congregating like they were before, outside their homes," says Craig Pinkney, a Birmingham-based criminologist and director of Solve: The Centre For Youth Violence and Conflict.
Pinkney says a lot of the young people involved in this violence don’t treat Covid-19 like the average person does: "They don't watch TV, so they're not scared of it. Some of them are into the 5G conspiracy theory. They don't think they'll get infected and they don't do social distancing." He adds that they also see Covid-19 as something only old people get, so continue to live life as usual. "The problem is that everything is shut down, so they are bored, and that leads to risky behaviour."
As a result, Pinkney has seen a rise in tit-for-tat violence in Birmingham, some of which – but not all – is connected to historic postcode rivalries and the increased reliance on social media to communicate.
"More people are using House Party and Zoom to stay in contact with friends and family. But what I've been told is happening is that rivals are jumping uninvited into people's chat groups and insulting people and starting arguments," says Pinkney. What's more, during lockdown rivals are more likely to know that their enemies will be near their homes because of restrictions around travelling abroad and around the country.
"These are children with a history of unruly behaviour, and with issues around parenting, domestic violence in their homes, drug dealing and with problems at school and [in the] drug trade," says Pinkney. "They don't like being in their house. They can go and hang out outside, because in the streets and cul-de-sacs where they live, unlike in London's housing estates, there's no police around and youth outreach services have stopped helping them.
"Prior to lockdown, youth violence was on the rise in Birmingham, but even during lockdown gun and knife crime has continued. It's business as usual."